How to rank universities? Chris Parr tries to answer that on the World Economic Forum page (

University rankings can focus on many different factors, including attractiveness of campus, satisfaction of students and alums, extracurricular benefits (such as top athletics programmes), affordability of tuition, and expected income of graduates.

But another important focus of ranking is on academic prestige, scholarly excellence, and intellectual horsepower. Most of the rankings try to take several dimensions into account, mainly focusing on one aspect nevertheless. For instance the US News global universities ranking has been based on 10 indicators that measure academic research performance and global and regional reputations. The QS World University Rankings® compare top 800 universities across four broad areas of interest to prospective students: research, teaching, employability and international outlook.

Usually students can use these rankings to explore the higher education options that exist beyond their own countries’ borders and to compare key aspects of schools’ research missions. Universities use the rankings to compare themselves and governments can use it to allocate fundings. Additionally, since 2003, the Center for World-Class Universities operated by Shanghai Jiao Tong University specializes in ranking universities around the world by academic performance.

For several years now, Harvard has been the most prestigious university in the world. Cambridge and Oxford are usually just behind with the MIT, Stanford and Berkeley completing the top six. According to 2015 results of the Times Higher Education’s world Reputation Rankings, those six universities have dominated the prestige rankings for five years. Their top 100 of the rankings started five years ago has shaked the usual rankings a lot although the top six has never changed.

Maybe it is because these rankings try to be objective but are however based also on subjective judgment. Academics are ranking academic institutions based on what they think is relevant.  As we see, The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2015 employ the world’s largest invitation-only academic opinion survey to provide the definitive list of the top 100 most powerful global university brands. They are working with Elsevier, and use United Nations data to distribute the survey in a way that is representative of scholarly activity (see here), and yet the top six just can’t be shifted!

150318-most prestigious universities times higher education

You can get more detailed analysis of the results here.

Here is this year’s top ten:

  1. Harvard University
  2. Cambridge University
  3. University of Oxford
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  5. Stanford University
  6. University of California, Berkeley
  7. Princeton University
  8. Yale University
  9. California Institute of Technology
  10. Columbia University

This table shows which countries now have at least one higher education institute of prestige and performance.

So – what do you think? is that relevant to you?

As you look at the list, of the top ten universities in the world, almost all of them are  are in the United States. Most of the Ivy League schools are on the list. Also, most of the University of California campuses are on this list as well. And the US have 43 out of the top 100. How could we explain this? Is that an expression of the US as superpower?

Is your alma mater in there? Would it be in another ranking with different criteria?

For now, American and British universities dominate the top of the list, but universities in Asia and elsewhere look to emulate them, do you think they will succeed?